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I know that this sounds like a LMGTFY question but i thought i'd ask it so that google actually turns up (more) good results. What is it?

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You were right ( I don't think posting that question here is going to improve the results one gets from searching for it on Google. – raven Aug 5 '09 at 2:11
Yes, but it improves Superuser to have Google point to Superuser for answers to questions. Even simple ones. – Richard Hoskins Aug 5 '09 at 4:04
It's when a southern gentleman with a white goatee discovers someones stolen his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices! (har har) – NoCarrier Aug 5 '09 at 16:54
lol, thats pretty good... – RCIX Aug 6 '09 at 0:54
up vote 11 down vote accepted

A kernel panic takes place when an Operating System detects a fatal error that it cannot recover from. This is a term specific to UNIX and UNIX-like Operating Systems (Linux, OSX, etc). The Windows term is a "STOP Error", and the OS will make a memory crash dump and write to the system log files, you may even get the well known "Blue screen of death".

The wikipedia article covers it better than I can:

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Isn't STOP error the same thing as BSOD? – grawity Aug 5 '09 at 12:26
Well, strictly speaking BSOD is the screen that is shown for a STOP error, but the terms are often used interchangeably. – sleske Jan 31 '11 at 20:49

A kernel panic is when the kernel (the very base of your operating system that talks to the hardware) has a problem that it can't recover from without being restarted. Because the kernel is at such a low level, the only way to restart the kernel is to restart the entire computer.

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It's the Linux (and UNIX) equivalent of the infamous BSoD (Blue Screen of Death).

From wikipedia's Kernel Panic page:

A kernel panic is an action taken by an operating system upon detecting an internal fatal error from which it cannot safely recover. The term is largely specific to Unix and Unix-like systems; for Microsoft Windows operating systems the equivalent term is ‘Stop error’ (or, colloquially, ‘Blue Screen of Death’).

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